Multiplatform TV: Stir The Social TV Conversation, But Not Too Much

NEW YORK: Networks can juice their TV ratings and keep a show's super-fans engaged through a deft use of social media -- but the efforts can backfire if they're out of sync with the Facebook and Twitter crowd.

That was one insight from speakers on the "Second-Screen Sizzle: TV & Social Media" panel at the "TV in a Multi-Platform World" event here Thursday presented by Multichannel News, B&C and TV Technology.

"Your audience doesn't want to hear from you every hour -- maybe a few times a day, or during a live event," said Marc DeBevoise, CBS Interactive senior vice president and general manager of entertainment. "Outside a live show you have to limit it. They don't want to hear 16 times a day from Ashton [Kutcher] about Two and a Half Men -- they get annoyed."

CBS last fall held a Tweet Week and a Social Sweep Week, with talent from each show hosting social chats every night. Social engagement increased across all the shows, with an increase of 750% for Social Sweep Week, DeBevoise said. But because there were up to a dozen posts per day, "we had people unfriend or unfollow us," he said.

DeBevoise cited a study by Nielsen and NM Incite that found social media activity about a TV show corresponds to its ratings, with an increase in social buzz of 9% in the weeks prior to a show's premiere tied to a 1% increase in ratings among viewers 18-34.

"The causation is hard to prove, but the correlation [between social activity and higher ratings] is something we can," DeBevoise said. "I kind of say, it doesn't matter. As long as that connection is happening, we're better off."

Jesse Redniss, USA Network senior vice president of digital, said it's important to "let people pick and choose" how to engage with social media, so they don't get overloaded. USA launched a social campaign heading into the seventh season of Psych, which has an active social fan base, and the result of getting people talking about the show led to a 10% increase in live ratings.

"We activated Facebook and Twitter 24/7 to talk about Psych," Redniss said. "You had 400,000 or 500,000 people talking about this great show."

But heavy social engagement does not always map to ratings. The CW's Vampire Diaries is one of the most actively discussed TV shows on Twitter, equivalent to a show that has 10 million viewers, but does not put up ratings numbers anywhere near that, according to Rick Haskins, the network's executive vice president of marketing and digital programs.

"I do scratch my head with Nielsen says I have 1.8 million people watching it and we have 10 million following it on Twitter -- there's something wrong with that equation," Haskins said.

Haskins related a case of "what never, ever to do" with social media. Two years ago, The CW was launching a new reality show, High Society, and pitched it as a real-world version of its popular drama Gossip Girl, on the Gossip Girl fan page.

"Within five seconds we got back a message, ‘How dare you use Gossip Girl to promote another show?'" Haskins said. The CW executed the marketing stunt on April 1, and someone else on the message boards posted, "What a great April Fool's joke!" he said -- and the network ended up telling fans it was a gag to save face.

"It was a huge, huge lesson for us to know that audience," he said. "They will turn on you in two seconds, and once they turn on you, they never come back."

Live events lend themselves to high social activity. DeBevoise noted that CBS's telecast of the Grammy Awards on Feb. 12 had the most social activity of any TV event to date, as measured by Bluefin Labs, with 13 million comments related to the awards show.

Whitney Houston -- who died a day before the Grammys -- accounted for just 5% of overall Grammys-related social comments, with a spike in activity during Jennifer Hudson's tribute during the show, DeBevoise said.

For advertisers, the social conversation happening around TV shows can be a form of analytics, said Mike Rosen, president and chief activation officer for Starcom USA. "Which have the super-fans? You look to see which shows really pop in terms of the conversation," he said.

He added, "I don't think the price-value ratio of the show changes based on the social conversation, but we look at that to see if we can bring our clients' brands into those conversations."

But advertisers must use social media in a way that does not come off as invasive, Rosen said: "You have to be really careful because the consumers are certainly more sensitive to that as opposed to a 30-second TV ad."

Haskins said TV networks, too, must not use social media for blatantly commercial reasons. "The consumer is not stupid. Once they feel you're using them as a barker channel, they get turned off," he said.

What's difficult for marketers to accept is that with social media, they can't control the message -- and not all the feedback is positive, Rosen said.

"It's a scary place for brands," he said. "It's not natural in our industry to let go."

The panel was moderated by B&C programming editor Andrea Morabito.

-- Multichannel News